Classic Boat Roadside Art – Sorry No Velvet Elvis’s

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We love it when fellow Woody Boaters find fun stuff on the road less traveled and share with all of us. Thanks to Paul Poledink and the Cobourg-Kid who did just that. Here are their two reports..

First one is the image above from Paul Pledink

The Big Brown Boat on the Wall
The big brown triple cockpit mahogany speed boat bursting out of the store’s outside wall wasn’t there the first time I drove by the Murray’s Auto Parts store on the corner of Maple Road and Pontiac Trail in Walled Lake, Michigan.   No, the wall was bare when I passed  Murray’s  during the June 2011 running of Walled Lake Thunder, the two day American Power Boat Association (APBA)  inboard hydroplane races our local club, the Marine Prop Riders, holds each year on Walled Lake.  It had rained and was cloudy on Friday, our set-up day, but on race day Saturday the sun came out so fiercely it motivated me get some protection.

I left the boat launching pits located in the parking lot of the Bayside Sports Bar and Grille at the northern end of Walled Lake.  I went up Pontiac Trail, the city’s main drag to find a drugstore to buy some sunscreen.  I turned left off of Pontiac Trail on to Maple Road about a half mile north of the race site, hurried into the drugstore, bought my sun protection, and got back to the pit area to man my position as Risk Manager for our race.  I did note in the back of my mind that across the street from the drugstore was a large Murray’s Auto Parts Store, a tidbit of local knowledge important to us boat racers who are always in desperate need of some motor part or a tool which we find necessary or lacking as we push our hydroplanes up to and many times beyond their limits.  Things in our sport break.  Often.   Too often.
Fast forward.  Each December as part of our wedding anniversary remembrance, my wife and I go out for dinner, and for the past several years we have gone to the Bayside Sports Bar.  The food is excellent, and I always make it known to the owner that we appreciate his sponsoring of the summer hydroplane races, and patronizing his restaurant is one way of showing our appreciation.  I decided to go home a different way, up Pontiac Trail and turned again on Maple Road.
On the wall this time to my surprise was a mural of a triple cockpit runabout with a happy couple in each set of seats. The mural invited the viewer to go to Walled Lake Park, the Picnic Wonderland.   In the background was a roller coaster and Ferris wheel.   OK, yes.  But, there is no present Walled Lake Park.  There WAS a Walled Lake Park which I went to as a little kid, but I vaguely remembered that it closed down a long time ago, in the 50’s or 60’s.  So what was this mural promoting?  Time for some historical detective work.
Good ol’ internet search engine came through.  I typed in some key words, and verified that there was a Walled Lake Amusement Park, which was operational from 1919 through 1968. It had a Dance Hall, the Casino, a world class roller coaster, a picnic area, all sorts of amusement park rides, and some water/beach attractions. It was located on the south end of Walled Lake, to take advantage of a natural swimming area, and then in one paragraph of the article I was reading there it was, buried at the end of a listing of Park attractions, “. . .and speed boat rides for fifteen cents .”
Another reference revealed that “Extending out from the point were two 500 ft. boardwalks where thrill seekers could get a speed boat ride for 15 cents.”  A third writer thought that the speed boats were “criscrafts.”  So that’s what the mural was promoting, these speed boat rides and picnicking.  But . . . the mural is not old and faded; it is fresh and vibrant and, well, sort of retro-modern.  What’s the story here?

Another internet search found a local November 2011 newspaper reference headline stating “Murray’s Gets Historic Mural.”  And, according to the newspaper account, the mural was supported by the Walled Lake Downtown Development Authority and a Federal Façade and Sign Grant, to replicate a popular poster of the old park.
Now the recent stories on Woody Boater about the thrilling rides in triple cockpit runabouts continued to whet my interest in this big brown boat on the side of the auto parts store, so at this point, I thought it would be worthwhile to talk to the owner of the Murray’s to get a feel for his reasons for placing the mural on his building.  The owner, Karl Blair, now retired, met with me for a half hour or so and gave his side of the story.  He said he looked at the vast expanse of blank wall facing Maple Road as a location for some auto parts store type of advertising signage, but was told by the city that he couldn’t use it for this purpose.   Not giving up, Karl suggested the placing of some sort of community spirit message on the wall.  How did he come up with the boat mural?  It just came to me, he said, after reviewing some historical pictures at the Walled Lake City Hall.  And, he stated that he bore much of the cost of the painting of the mural himself – and, that it wasn’t cheap.
Who painted the big brown boat mural?  Peter Flores ,a commercial sign painter from Dearborn, Michigan, who had a contract to paint the signs for many of  the Murray’s Auto Parts stores, a well-known chain in Michigan, now absorbed by O’Reilly Auto Parts to a great extent.  Peter related that it took about two weeks last fall to paint the mural to the wall, and that he copied the theme from an old poster given to him by Karl.
Aside from the grandeur of this mural, my biggest disappointment in this search is that although I found many pictures of the Park in its heyday, there were no pictures of the thrilling “criscraft” speedboats.  I’m guessing that although WE like to think that riding in a triple cockpit runabout is beyond description, the operators of the park and attendees were more enthralled by the conventional rides – the Green Dragon Rollercoaster, the Tilt – a-Whirl, the Dodge’em Cars, and so on.  The references state that many of the rides at the park were sold to other amusement parks when Walled Lake Park closed – the Roller coaster was demolished and the Dance Hall burned – but what happened to the boats?  And, is this big brown boat an accurate rendition of a Chris Craft triple cockpit speedboat?  Is there any meaning to the three stars on the burgee?
A personal note:  My own boats include a restored 5 Liter conventional inboard hydroplane, White Lightning, built in 1972, and a 1955 Lyman Islander under restoration.  Is there room in Woody Boater Land for the hydro?  It’s a wood boat, painted not varnished.  I’ve shown it at several classic boat shows in the area as a static display– Algonac, Presque Ile, Toledo, and Port Sanilac – and have been warmly welcomed by the show organizers and attendees.  It’s not at all similar to the Chris Crafts, Gar Woods, Centurys, Hackers, and other varnished mahogany beauties, but it is wood, it is vintage, and it is very cool.
Paul Poledink

And this fun report from the road in Ontario. take it away Cobourg-Kid

How Cool is that?

“Took a quick trip to Brockville Ontario last weekend to visit relatives. As an antidote to eastbound highway 401  (Canada’s version of  I-95 hell)  I decided to detour along the beautiful Thousand Island Parkway . While swinging through Rockport ( trying to sniff out old boats in the bulrushes— weren’t any) ) I happened upon a fantastic mural painted on the south end of the Andress Boat works winter storage shed. Thought the sons of Varnish would like to see it.
According to their website Andress has been in business  since the 1920s, initially as a boat-builder and later as a full service marina.”

Thanks for the fun pics and stories. This is what road trips are all about. All you need is a good slice of pie and all is well in the world.

26 replies
  1. WoodyGal
    WoodyGal says:

    I love it when a good sign painter creates magic! What used to be done by hand with a brush and good eyeballs is almost a lost art. These are the same artists that put beautifully designed names on boat transoms. Great story!

  2. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:


    Of course you are welcome again at the Algonac show. I contacted Bob Dabrowski about a month ago, and I am waiting for his feedback on how many of your great race boats we will accomodate this year. It is a great attraction at our show.


  3. matt
    matt says:

    This years Algonac show is going to be a very special show. We are looking very forward to it for sure. The entire Woody Boater gang will be there as well. Woohoooo!

  4. stephen straughan
    stephen straughan says:

    Hi Guys
    Just a clarification if you go looking for Andress Boatworks in Rockport Maine (as suggested in the header) you wont find it. The boatshop mural is in Rockport Ontraio, directly accross the St Lawrence River from Alexandria Bay NY. Just a short trip east of the north end of the Thousand Islands Bridge

    Cobourg -Kid

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      I was wondering when the Thousand Island Parkway got extended all the way to Maine. Don’t sweat it too much, here in Woodyboaterville it is critically important to get the right zipper but you don’t need to be so overly precise with location data that it has to be perfect all the way down to the correct country.

  5. m-fine
    m-fine says:


    If your boat is made of wood and, well, a boat, then it is indeed a woodyboat. We even accept non-wood boats if they have cool fins or classic styling.

  6. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Oh and what exactly is a velvet elf, and what is it that belongs to the velvet elves that you are sorry that we have none of? I am very confused by todays title, perhaps I need more caffeine.

  7. matt
    matt says:

    OK, it was a rough morning! You all knew what i was talking about? Right? HA, I fixed it all. So now your comments look foolish. Its like we have a virtual proof reader.

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      To be honest, it did take me a long time to figure out the elves were supposed to be Elvis. Also, we don’t need your help to make our comments look foolish, they do that naturally on their own!

      • Rick
        Rick says:

        I don’t know if I read it after it was fixed or just read it as Elvis subconsciously but I agree with m-fine, I can do foolish/stupid pretty good already but help is always appreciated, especially if it keeps me from being dangerous to others.

  8. matt
    matt says:

    The stupid comments are always my favorite. This hobby is full of stupidity. I know nothing about what always appears to be so simple. And thank god for the comments on these stories. I have found that the comments are the best and most fun part of this site.

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      As the guy who assumed it was the apostrophe “s” that was they typo and went on to google “velvet elves” wondering if it was some sort of Canadian garden nome or piece of roadside Americana I had never heard of, I believe I have no choice but to join you!

  9. Frank Miklos
    Frank Miklos says:

    I saw the one in Brockville Ontario in 2010. It was pretty cool. We were at Clayton and went up into Ontario for Lunch. It was not too far away… I think I took a photo of it … I’ll have to go back an look in my files… Brokville is only about 35 miles from Clayton…

  10. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Look! (if the picture works) Google saw it as Elves’s too, and the URL for the article still has the “e” so proof I was not halucynatin’


  11. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    I just got a follow up email from the ABM on the ACBS symposium in Clayton. it included the following gem…

    “-If you are not familiar with, it is a blog covering the wooden boating community all over the country and they featured a recap of our weekend:

    Not familiar with Matt, I suggest you contact Margaret Hummel and let her know that this is no simple blog that covers this country. This is “the center of the wood-motorboat universe”.

  12. pat chaps
    pat chaps says:

    Walled Lake Amusment Park was a popular place and indeed offered rides in wood speed boats.
    That was my favorite ride since I was afraid of the Wild Mouse and Ferris Wheel.
    Since I was only 7 years old at the time I don’t remember the brand, model or size of the engines.
    It would be great to find one of those boats today.

  13. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    Excellent, Andress did my friends Lyman. Shortened it by a few inches since the end of the strakes were rotten and put in a new transome. Nice job. Plus it is at The River! Plus Brockville is a great stop by boat since the brewers retail outlet is a block from the dock across the street from Don’s fish and chips. Can’t wait.

  14. BOB
    BOB says:

    The great looking Hydro “White Lightning” is all wood except the cowl and fin. It is a beautiful restoration done by the owner and Steve Balcer. Most all vintage Hydros are wood.

  15. Bob Lofft
    Bob Lofft says:

    The speedboat rides at Walled Lake were one of my family’s favorite adventures. Speeding around the lake on a warm summer night in a classic Chris Craft was an unforgettable experience, and one not without some risk. One night in the summer of 1953, with only starlight above, we barley missed hitting a rowboat that had no lights. A sudden swerve by our boat’s alert operator prevented what would have been a horrible collision. He then cut the power and shined the spotlight on the rowboat and its three occupants. People did crazy things back in those days, too.

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